Sunday, December 03, 2006

Columbia Classical Ballet's Nutcracker

On Friday night Alex and I went to see Radenko Pavlovich's Nutcracker at the Koger Center. Shih-Huai Liang, a former Kirov Academy student who graduated the year before Mathias but stayed at the school last year as an "apprentice", is in the company and managed to leave three tickets at the will-call office for us. Alex invited Erica to join us. Frankly, we needed something entertaining to do. Earlier in the afternoon I had my "issues" with CD burning. We'd been in a panic and Erica didn't even have time to go home to change. She wore my black cashmere top and black sandals with her designer jeans. We were anxious to relax and simply watch the dancing.

The program answered many of our casting questions but posed several others. There was an announcement thanking Anne Richardson of Richland District Two school district. I'm assuming the corps dancers came from there but I'm really not sure. The main girl for Arabian was clearly not a high-schooler but is also not in the company. Later we saw Stacy Calvert waiting to congratulate a dancer. Perhaps this girl is a USC dance major? The program indicated that there were two casts but did not say on which night which dancer was to perform.

We arrived with at least a half hour until curtain. While reading the scant program, I thought back to last year's Nutcracker. The second act had been quite nice but the first was downright boring. We watched the party goers parade across the stage infront of the curtain for longer than is usual. There was almost no dancing until the "solider" music started. We had to endure watching all the party goers return back across the stage as they left. Most of the first part seemed to be "wasting time", getting through the manatory music, waiting for the dancing to begin.

Then I thought about the "nightmare" sequence. Someone told me that Paris Opera included large-headed monster-like figures that scare Clara in the opening of the second act. The costumes looked poorly made and cheap. These "heads" were so large that it made dancing impossible, just semi-choreographed running around in circles chasing the little girl. I was happy to see that Radenko had eliminated this part and opted for a typical angelic dream of heaven.

Finally the overture started. As usual, the music was too loud. The lighting on the curtain was odd. Then I recognized it as the "bats" that start Dracula or Frankenstein or even Jekell & Hyde. Alex and I giggled a bit. The party-goers all took their time making the way to the Stahlbaum's house. Happily, the dancing started almost immediately. There were "Big Party Girls" and "Little Party Girls" and three party boys. These groups all took turns, just like civic productions do--allowing all the kids to have a moment to shine. Yes, this was more of a student recital worked into a ballet, but at least it was something instead of the boredom we were shown last year. In fact, some of the young dancers really exhibited potential. Zach Hartley played the part of Fritz. He has talent but it is hard for me to judge. He looks about ten or eleven. He is thirteen. Another boy was put into the Stahlbaum family as "Heinrich" but he didn't appear with his family at the end. Odd. Morgan Lumpkin did a fine job with the Columbine solo. Easily, however, the best segment was Shhih-Huai's Harlequin. The audience paid attention and applauded warmly.

The Battle Scene can be quite a mess in a civic production, too many rats, too much "smoke" effects, too many three year old mice, etc. This show had but two rats. They were quite entertaining. One was Humberto Teixeira and the other was Shih-Huai. (This was his third costume of the evening as he started out as a party gentlemen before changing into the Harlequin.) The mice were all keep in a group and ushered on and off stage by an adult. The soldiers, more students, were orderly. The nutcracker and the Rat King (Andrei Saraev) had their battle. Oddly, the Rat King stabbed the nutcracker. We never saw the transformation into a would-be prince. Instead, a wooden nutcracker was used henceforth. There was but one slight mishap, a rat tripped over a mouse but somehow they managed to get the child off the stage.

Nothing was used to bring us to the Land of Snow. The curtain went down and then up. We were there. Clara wandered in with the toy nutcracker at the end. The Snowflakes must have been the Richland Two School District students. They were very, very good, well practiced, and it was nice to watch. The leads were good too.

The Second Act gave students an opportunity to be angels and play with battery operated candles. Parents in the audience roared with approval. Clara wandered in again as the scene changed without much transition into The Land of Sweets. Characters for each of the variations introduced themselves to the audience. Then, Clara mimed the battle scene to the SugarPlum Fairy. The variations then re-introduced themselves to Clara. Finally, all the music was used up and we arrived for Spanish, which was called Spanish Sangria.

We saw Daria Sokolova dance with Leonid Flegmatov. Leonid alternated the part with principal dancer Mikhail Ronikov. These were the only two company members that didn't seem to have at least five or six roles in the program. Unfortunately, the white shirt was miles too large for him and took away from the dancing. There was little partnering and less geniune energy.

The major problem of the evening was one of those unfortunate technical ones during which one can't help but feel terribly for the dancers involved. The four (probably Richland Two students) accompanying the Arabian dancers took their positions on stage with their hands above their heads in a typical eastern style when the incorrect music started. The music stopped. The dancers stood still. A minute past. More incorrect music. Another minute. Even my arms began to ache for those on stage. Finally, they bowed and departed. We all clapped furiously. Finally, the correct music started. The lead dancer, Jeanette Medina, likely a USC dancer, was quite good being partnered with Junio Teixeira.

The best part of the evening was undoubtedly Shih-Huai Liang partnering Morgan Lumpkin and Daira Sokolova in Marzipan. As they came on stage I crossed my fingers with hope. Yes, it was the choreography I watched in person when Mathias was thirteen and have rewatched frequently in video tape. It was the Kirov Marzipan. I love this variation. The audience did too. Shih-Huai was excellent. The girls were excellent. We roared Bravo through our applause.

Mother Ginger and the Bon-Bons is always a fun treat. The clown-like black & white costumes on the little girls are darling. Chinese Chopsticks featured two of the apprentices, Christina Fipps and Leigh Hartley (who was also Louisa) jumping around on pointe. Radenko's Russian choreography is great. They forgot to list Shih-Huai as one of the four men dancing though.

We saw Reka Gyulai as the Dew Drop Fairy. The lead flowers were Daria and Morgan. The rest of the corps were likely the Richland Two students but there were a number of older elementary schoolers in pale pink, the flower buds. The dancing was a nice blend of recital-like work coupled with more proficient dancers.

Talin Kenar was the Sugar Plum Fairy. She was partnered by Mikhail Ronikov. She did a lovely job and is quite a beautiful girl. He dances well but seems to have lost an energetic flair. His variation just seems like a series of big, open leaps executed adequately but with no special purpose.

The music changes abruptly with the lights. Clara is fetched by a night-gowned women holding another battery powered candle. The stage is almost entirely dark. The curtain is lowered. It raises for the bowing.

All in all, we really liked the performance. It had some problems but they were rather minor. The biggest problem isn't one that can be easily fixed. There are simply too few dancers in the company to mount this production without the use of lots of kids and amateurs. There is a "civic" quality to the whole and too much time spent waiting for the music to get to the part that's been rehearsed as dancing. Yet, the dancing was enjoyable. The program wasn't boring.

We went to Hunter-Gatherers for dinner and saw Gina Langston. She was suppose to sing with the band performing later that night (starting around 11 PM) but the band opted for her to join them on the 15th. I didn't even know she sang!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your honesty in reference to the Columbia Classical Ballet COmpany. It is refreshing to hear somone onther than my friends and I be honest about the talent and "professional" companies here in town. Good for you! Oh and PS...Arabian is not from USC...wonder who she is and where she dances?

Susan Lenz said...

Well, thanks for telling me that she's NOT from USC. I really wondered myself because I generally see all the USC performances I can. I assumed I would have remembered such a talented girl(s). I'm still not sure why the entire costuming was different on Saturday night if it wasn't another dancer. Anyway, they are doing great things at USC. It has been marvelous to watch the improving quality and have an opportunity to see some Balanchine pieces locally. It has been a real education for me and I appreciate it. I especially like the involvement with other art groups and university departments, such as the live music led by a master's candidate in conducting, the video work behind "Seven Deadly Sins", the response to Brian Ruttenberg's artwork at the State Museum, and the collaboration with artist Marcelo Novo. Still, wonder where Ms. Arabian came from?

Anonymous said...

This is really past late but...Arabian was a girl named Jeanette Medina who used to dance with Radenko. She had done Arabian since she was probably about 13. It's basically her "signature role". She took a year off to start school. She came back and did Nutcracker this year. She is a wonderfully talented dancer! And also the girls that danced with her....not that it matters were all Apprentices of the complany.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susan Lenz said...

To the last anonymous commenter:
First and foremost, congratulation on your casting as Clara for the 2008 production of Columbia Classical Ballet's Nutcracker. I'm sure this will be a magical experience. Enjoy every moment.

I know you are very young. Perhaps you ought to let your parents know that you are commenting on public blogs and leaving enough information that within a month or so your name would be known. Actually, an easy telephone call to your dance studio pretending to want Nutcracker ticket with a question about Clara's casting would reveal your identity. It is not wise to write comments like the one to left. I will likely delete it in a few days...for your protection.

Now, I'm going to give you some additional advice. Please try to carefully read blog posts before commenting. I didn't say that the performance was boring. I said the one the previous year had been boring. You shouldn't be insulted by a dance review...especially one written by a mere audience member.

What I wrote happens to be true because it was an account of my own impressions. Of course, my impressions are based upon quite a lot of experience seeing many different professional companies, international ballet competitions, six years of Kirov Academy of Ballet performances, and having followed the civic and "professional" companies in Columbia for over fourteen years. I also have season tickets to North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte. I've been attending there for about six years.

Thus,I know "cheap" costumes from "expensive" ones. I also know that most programs provide much more information about the company, the cast, and the production than do those provided by Columbia Classical Ballet. I am certainly able to distinguish "recital" work and a parade of children from truly professional level dancing.

Please know, I love recitals. I attend them often. It is not insulting for a student to be involved. Of course you and your friends worked hard. In fact, I applauded your efforts in my blog post. If you read the blog post carefully, you will understand that "recital" work is simply not appropriate as the focus of so many scenes in what is billed as a professional production.

I hope one day you will have the opportunity to witness the Nutcracker danced by a company large enough and talented enough to carry a full-length, classical ballet. Unfortunately, Columbia Classical Ballet cannot do this. It can only mount a weak reflection. That doesn't mean every moment is "bad". That doesn't mean dancers didn't work hard. That doesn't mean it wasn't enjoyable to watch. This is a statement about overall quality, not individual efforts.

I do sincerely hope, however, that your performance is magical, one which you'll always remember fondly.

Anonymous said...

you lady insault columbia classical ballet. or nutcracker has been voted best in columbia for years. we work for months to prepare and then you go and pick out every detail. you are not a ballet critic. so please keep your sdine comments to your sself and your gigglr husband.

Susan Lenz said...

To the last anonymous person writing a comment: Hilarious! This is MY blog. It is exactly the place where MY opinions belong ... and the facts!